by Mihai Moga
Mountain bike equipment is currently evolving at an unbelievable pace. In the last few years, featherweight full suspension frames have appeared and proven themselves to be far tougher and hardier than their much heavier alloy predecessors. Suspension designs have become incredibly efficient and reliable. Bike weights have plummeted and durability has increased in almost every area of the bike. However, this evolution has come at a price, namely, the price. If you try just a bit, you can now spend more on an all mountain trail bike than on a brand new motocross bike. The Crank Brothers Iodine 3 wheelset we’ve been testing for the last 6 months certainly qualifies as part of this wave of high tech, lightweight, and high-priced equipment. Which begs the question that most riders might have to ask themselves with many a purchase these days; what am I paying for, and is it worth it?
Iodine 3 Wheelset Highlights
- Rims: 6061-t6 aluminum
- Joint: welded
- Interior width: 21mm
- Recommended tire size: 2.3- 2.5”
- Spokes: 24 stainless steel
- Nipples: Elongated hollow 7075-t6
- Front Hub: 20mm thru axle with 2 cartridge bearings (QR 15 or 9mm QR also available)
- Rear Hub: 135x 10mm QR (142x12mm thru axle also available)
- Weight: 1765 grams total
- Warranty: 2 years
- MSRP: $950 US
It wasn’t long ago that it was almost impossible to spend $950 on a wheelset, without resorting to silly things like titanium spokes or Randy Jackson autographed rims. With the advent of carbon rims it is now easy to spend quite a bit more, but since these are alloy hoops we’ll compare apples to apples and evaluate them only among other wheels made from the same material. So then, how did they do?
On The Trail
I’ve been running this wheelset exclusively on my Santa Cruz Nomad for the last 6 months. These were the only wheels used on this bike in that time. The Nomad is my most frequently ridden bike by far, typically being used for several rides a week. With these wheels I also raced several times, sometimes on smooth jump trails, but also on some trails that would qualify as quite rough on a 6” bike.
First of all, these wheels bring the bling. They feature a totally unique look, with machined sections in the rims and CNCed elongated alloy nipples mated to short stainless steel spokes. It is impossible to mistake these wheels for any other, and they give a singular and racy look to any bike they are mounted to.
It was a joy not to have to mess with tubeless rim strips, since these rims have no holes drilled through them except for the 6.5mm valve hole. Mounting tubeless tires was a flawless procedure requiring very little sealant. I also suspect the lack of holes in these rims has something to do with their level of toughness and durability.
Riding the wheels for 6 months has proven them to be plenty stiff, strong and impressively reliable. The unique 24-spoke lacing pattern and proprietary spokes may not seem all that confidence-inspiring the first time you lay eyes on them, but on the trail they were nothing but solid. I have yet to resort to truing them which really says it all.
Things That Could Be Improved
The hubs are the only major point of concern on this wheelset - specifically the freehub. It is not that it has been problematic, but simply that Crank Brothers is demanding a higher price for the Iodines than many hand built wheels that feature some of the best hubs money can buy. And in comparison to those hubs, Crank Brothers’ rear hub features a very standard 3-pawl, 24-point ratchet freehub, which admittedly never failed but also does not offer the number of engagement points nor the solid feel of any of those competitors.
While the freehub is not a deal-breaker, as rapid engagement may not be on top of every rider's must-have feature check-list, it is certainly something we feel Crank Brothers should address.
Long Term Durability
Overall the structural integrity of the wheels has been outstanding. In fact as previously mentioned, after all that riding they have never been trued or tensioned in any way, and still do not need to be. I was skeptical about Crank Brothers’ unique twinpair 24 spoke system that is laced in a low dish mirror pattern with only 12 points of contact at a vertical rib on the rim. Would it provide an adequately stiff and durable wheel? And of course there's the potential hassle of dealing with proprietary parts in the event of broken spokes or wobbly rims. Well, I can’t really comment on how easy or difficult these wheels are to true or service, simply because they have never needed it. In that respect I think it is safe to say these have been an extremely durable set of wheels, and that the design is viable. The hubs have been reliable as well, with the rear needing tightening just once.
What's The Bottom Line?
In summary, these wheels are stiff and durable, and the hubs are reliable if a little pedestrian. The wheelset is pretty average in weight, which these days means that they are quite light and that to go significantly lighter would require cashing in your now borderline worthless 401k and getting carbon wheels. So is it worth spending your hard earned $950 on these wheels? I would say it is, if the uniqueness and looks of these wheels are worth something to you. Plus the 2 year warranty is also a great incentive. There’s no question they look cool, and I wasn’t able to expose any glaring flaws in their operation. If you are looking to maximize your rear hub performance per dollar, I think you can probably do a bit better, but you won’t get something with the same exotic bling factor that these wheels have.
Fore more details, visit www.crankbrothers.com.
About The Reviewer
Mihai Moga has been attracted to bikes since before he can remember, but got his first real taste in 1995 and quickly picked up downhill racing. He has competed at three DH World Championships, won some State and Regional titles, and is an overall mountain bike addict. His favorite places to race are Mont Sainte Anne, Val di Sole, Vermont, Snowmass and SolVista. He’s calculated but aggressive, while at the same time as smooth as possible. You’ll find him on his trail bike more often than not, and he prefers fast and rough trails over slow and tight. Not a fan of changing things just for the sake of change, he’s very analytical, but also practical, and if he thinks something could be better he’s definitely not afraid to modify or rebuild it to suit his needs. These traits have made him ideal as a tester, and he’s often found riding pre-production products for this reason. Moga also dabbled in frame design at one point, and his design was used to produce DH and all-mountain bikes. One of his biggest passions is building trails, and today he makes a living traveling the world to do just that.